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Posts about Parks and recreation

Gouging or fair value? Mpls. Park Board fumes over tiny land parcel

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 13, 2014 - 1:26 PM

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board this month approved buying a $1.8 million parcel of land on NE Marshall Street for a price of about $49 per square foot.

But at the same meeting it pitched a fit when asked to pay $5 per square foot for a tiny chunk of land a scant third of a mile way.

The reason?  

Some park commissioners feel the city’s development officials are gouging them by charging $14,090 for the smaller parcel. But the city has a different explanation.

The Park Board’s view, argued most passionately by Commissioner Jon Olson, is that the city has no other feasible buyer for that small parcel. It’s about half the size of a typical city lot and sits in the shadow of a rusting high-voltage transmission line tower.

The Park Board wants the land for a planned East Bank trail that will stretch from nearby NE Marshall St. to Boom Island Park. What frosted some commissioners is that they last year approved to a no-cost agreement down river on the West Bank that allowed the city to build a trail that runs through Bluff Street Park to connect with the end of the bike-foot Bridge 9.

So why not return the favor, they asked.  “It’s completely ridiculous,” Olson fumed, arguing that the remnant parcel at 1326 NE Water St.is otherwise unmarketable for the city. He suggested rejecting the price, for which the city has supporting appraisals. Then the Park Board should put up signs where the trail would end at the parcel telling the citizenry why, he said.

But the city's response is that this is connected to a larger deal in which the city previously sold land to the park system for the partly developed Veterans Memorial Park. According to Wes Butler, the city's manager of residential finance, the parcel in question was held out of that sale because it was encumbered with a railroad easement. The railroad agreed to lift that easement for a price, to be paid for by the city and the Park Board. So the sale price was the city's way of collecting the Park Board's share of the easement price, plus the land's fair market value.

Commissioner John Erwin argued that the trail planned for 2016 will pay dividends for the city in increasing property values.  “I mean this is the gift that keeps on giving,” he said. But some of the posturing may be with an eye on the upper riverfront’s future. “I shudder to think what they’re going to charge for the upper harbor if they’re going to charge $14,000 for this little triangle,” Erwin said, referring to a piece of city-owned land that will be divided between city plans for a business park and Park Board plans for a parkway and recreational paths.

The board sent its staff back to do some harder bargaining with the city.

(Photo above: The land lies alongside this transmission tower, with the BNSF railroad bridge in the background.  Aerial photo below: The disputed parcel, outlined in yellow, is close to the Mississippi River. That's the 1400 block of NE Marshall St. at right. )

CPED releases more on UHT TIF proposal

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 6, 2014 - 5:56 PM

Minneapolis development officials have released additional details on a potential legislative proposal they're pitching for easing restrictions on tax-increment financing to assist redevelopment at the Upper Harbor Terminal.

Tax-increment financing allows a city to use additional taxes generated by a development to pay for public improvements associated with preparing the site for that development. The 48-acre terminal shuts down at the end of the year, and riverfront plans for the area call for a business park with a fringe of riverside park. It's the first major site -- and likely the largest -- for carrying out a landmark 1999 plan for revamping the upper river. 

The Department of Community Planning and Economic Development's ideas for special legislation are intended to loosen time frames and cross-subsidy restrictions. That would make  use of the financing tool more feasible as the redevelopment unfolds over an undetermined period, The department offered its proposals at a Thursday afternoon meeting of the City Council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

The public investments at the terminal are expected to include clearing the site, building new streets and relocating utilities, moving an overhead high-voltage line and building a parkway and trails. The city estimated that would cost $10 million, but Park Board construction of a parkway and associaed parks would be on top of that.

Some of that money is expected to come from grants and selling land, but the city said in its Power Point presentation that tax-increment revenue "could be an important tool."


Judge rules for city in Uptown groundwater pumping case

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 6, 2014 - 6:47 AM

A judge has ruled that the controversial pumping of groundwater from the underground parking area of an upscale Uptown apartment building into city sewers and a nearby lagoon violates Minneapolis ordinances and constitutes trespass.

Hennepin County District Judge Philip D. Bush ruled Wednesday in a lawsuit brought last winter by the city of Minneapolis against apartment owner Lake and Knox LLC. over its pumping into nearby sewers and waters of millions of gallons a year of groundwater that would otherwise seep into the building’s lower garage. The 56-unit building at 1800 W. Lake St. stirred debate in 2009 over the appropriate height for buildings in the area.

Bush’s order said he’ll set a hearing within 30 days on the city’s request that he issue an injunction banning the pumping into sewers and the lagoon between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.

He indicated he’ll issue a separate order later on the city’s claim that a civil penalty of $1,000 per day should be levied for the unpermitted discharge into the sewers. The city also claims more than $130,000 in expenses for responding to the issue, including installing winter piping to direct the water out of the lagoon and into Calhoun.

“We’re extremely pleased,” City Attorney Susan Segal said in reaction. “This has been a very frustrating and time-consuming problem for the city to deal with.” Representatives of the building’s ownership couldn’t be reached for comment. The city’s filings identified them as developers Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller, who brought in other investors.

Lake and Knox has also brought claims against BKV Group, RLK Inc. and Braun Intertec, which it said provided engineering or geotechnical services for the project. A separate jury trail would determine how to apportion liability among them.

Bush granted a motion for summary judgment brought by the city that argued that the pumping of groundwater constituted an unpermitted discharge of water into storm sewers that violates city ordinances. The city granted the developers a temporary permit to pump groundwater during construction of parking levels that were installed below the water table. But it argued that permit ended when construction did and that no permit for permanent pumping was obtained.

He also granted the city argument that the pumping constitutes a public nuisance under city ordinance. The city alleged that the pumping impeded the effectiveness of city storm drains, and impairs the Chain of Lakes by adding to their algae-feeding load of phosphorus. Bush also granted a city argument that the discharge constitutes a trespass of city sewers.

The city has portrayed the owners in court filings as proceeding with a two-level underground garage despite evidence that the lower level would sit below the area’s water table.

The city has estimated in its arguments that the discharge amounts to 90 million gallons annually. That discharge into the lagoon has thinned the nearby ice in winter, endangering cross-country skiers and others, according to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which joined the city in the lawsuit. The city and Park Board allege that the drainage mars the lakes scenery and hinders maintenance of a sewer grit chamber intended to remove sediment and accompanying pollutants.

The city alleged that the developers were told repeatedly that they needed to apply for a permit to discharge into sewers after construction. “They knew exactly what they were doing,” said Brian Rice, an attorney for the Park Board. “The sign is red, they know there’s a stop sign, and they’re driving through the stop sign at 30 miles per hour.”

Dan McLaughlin, president of the East Isles Residents Association, said area residents want pumping ended. “We look forward to the final solution for the problem they created,” he said.

Lara Norkus-Crampton, a Calhoun area resident, praised the city and Park Board for working together to preserve the lakes area ecosystem.  “It only takes one rogue developer to make a bigger impact than any of us could create,” she said. Norkus-Crampton resigned from the Planning Commission in 2009 over the commission granting variances and other approvals for the apartment that she felt violated the Uptown small area plan.


Upper river to gain new trails by 2016

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 5, 2014 - 12:03 PM

By 2016, a new set of recreation paths should extend up the East Bank of the Mississippi River in northeast Minneapolis, matching a set built on the opposite bank in 2007.

They'll be the first major expansion of park trails in the city since the West Bank trails, and a major stpe forward in plans to revamp the upper riverfront .

A community advisory committee has recommended a route for the new paths from the current ending point at the Plymouth Avenue Bridge and extending to NE Marshall Street where it's crossed by the Burlington Northern tracks.

That's a distance along the river of about three-quarters of a mile, but the proposed route is closer to a mile in length because it meaders.

That plan gets a public hearing at the Park Board at 6:30 on Nov. 19. Design work would start after baord approval and the project would be bid next year, with work finishing in 2016, according to the project schedule.  Most of the money is coming from a $1 million federal grant, with metro money contributing another $600,000.

The proposed trails would be separated where possible, with a 10-foot bike path and an eight-foot foot trail. Where they'd be combined in places where space is tight, they'd be a minimum of 12 feet wide. The paths might be fenced in spots, such as where they run close to the river, or near the railroad.

The proposed rout meaders around various riverfront features.  It passes under the Plymouth bridge close to the east abutment to leave space for the planned recreation of an island offshore at the future park planned for the former Scherer lumber site. Then it swings east to loop around that park site, so that it leaves room for construction equipment that will eventually build the island and park facilities.

Then the route swings toward the river, to fit behind the Graco complex, and goes under the Broadway Avenue Bridge. It swings on the inland side of the memorial at Sheridan Memorial Park, on the river side of a proposed play area there, and then along an abandoned rail spur to Marshall.

The completion of the path at the east end of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad bridge mirrors the dead end of the West Bank trail at Ole Olson Park, former site of the Riverview Supper Club. But park officials report little progress to date on the long-held hope of crossing the river on or adjacent to that privately owned bridge.

The project faces a federal deadline of next Sept. 1 to be ready for bidding, or it loses the money.

(Photo above: The East Bank trail extension would run from Boom Island just beyond the Plymouth Avenue Bridge (middle of photo) upriver under the Broadway Avenue Bridge to the Burlington Northern rail bridge (foreground))

Construction costs delay another park project

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 3, 2014 - 5:01 PM

The good news is that the they got five bids.  But the bad news is that Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff had to reject all of them recently because they were far over the estimated cost and budget.

So you can add Triangle Park play area near the southwest corner of Lake Nokomis to the list of metro-area park projects delayed by the overheated construction market in the Twin Cities area. The lowest bid came in 39 percent over the $414,000 estimated cost of the work, according to Adam Arvidson, project manager.

It's just the latest casualty of the torrid construction market that has wreaked havoc with a variety of civic projects ranging from parks to streets, as detailed in a recent Star Tribune article.

The difficulty in attracting favorable bids has been attributed to several large construction projects such as the new Vikings and Saints stadia and the mall of American expansion, a crush of projects deferred from the recession, a shortage of construction workers, and a shortage of cement.

Park officials hope to rebid the project in January, when more workers are idle and contractors are lining up work for the 2015 season. The work involves replacing substandard playground equipment for tots. The Metro Council-funded project is the first wave in a larger renovation of Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park planned over the next two and one-half years.

But it's far from the only parks project affected by the poor bidding situation. Some work has been pushed back for another round of bidding, while other projects have been pared in scope, according to Cliff Swenson, a manager of design for park projects.

Swenson offered other examples. Park officials a few months ago pulled back from bidding a project for trail work on Ridgeway Parkway based on contacts with bidders. Trail work at Bryn Mawr Meadows came in high all three times it was bid, so the scope of work was trimmed.  Knowing the bidding climate, park officials trimmed the scope of the work for renovating W. River Parkway trails based on priorities set by an advisory committee.

Swenson said that constractors may shy away because of the Park Board's participation in civil rights efforts that set goals for using women-owned and minority-owned subcontractors and hiring minority workers.

Swenson said the Park Board is trying to sharpen competition among contractors by contacting them to encourage them to bid, especially if it's work the contractor has handled before.

"We really have to do a good job of selling a project," he said.


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